Helping a family in tough, tough circumstances

(Cross-posted at Blog of the Century).

The New York Times includes a jaw-dropping op-ed, “Down the insurance rabbit hole,” by MIT political scientist Andrea Louise Campbell. Reflecting on Justice Scalia’s recent professed skepticism about forcing young people to buy insurance that largely subsidizes others, Campbell writes:

May the justices please meet my sister-in-law. On Feb. 8, she was a healthy 32-year-old, who was seven and a half months pregnant with her first baby. On Feb. 9, she was a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down by a car accident that damaged her spine. Miraculously, the baby, born by emergency C-section, is healthy.

Were the Obama health care reforms already in place, my brother and sister-in-law’s situation – insurance-wise and financially – would be far less dire. My brother’s small employer – he is the manager of a metal-fabrication shop – does not offer health insurance, which was too expensive for them to buy on their own.

There’s so much about this essay that commands attention. As I write here at, Campbell’s tragic family story engages many different aspects of health reform–the need for some sort of mandate and exchanges to broaden coverage, the need to curb lifetime caps on insurance coverage for catastrophic injuries, the need for essential benefits to ensure that needed services are covered.

Campbell’s sister-in-law will eventually be covered by Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid). That family may spend the rest of their lives hopefully having their basic needs met, but living inside the financial straitjacket of means-tested aid. Financially secure people in relatively good health rarely stop to consider the tough, tough bargain disabled people and their families need to make in accepting Medicaid help.

Marcella Wagner, her husband Dave Campbell, and their new child Logan Otis Campbell will need much help. Those who want to help can do so here. I’m glad they have raised more than $22,000. They will need a lot more.

Andrea Campbell happens to be a casual acquantance. So this story especially moves me. But of course there are many, many other people in similarly difficult circumstances. People I respect—not all conservatives—think it was a mistake for President Obama and other Democrats to push through health reform. Stories like this remind me why I disagree, and why I regret that they couldn’t do more.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

5 thoughts on “Helping a family in tough, tough circumstances”

  1. The financial straitjacket of Medicaid and similar means-tested aid, compounded by all kinds of bureaucratic restrictions and catches, is remarkably cruel social policy.

    No reference in the article to the contributions of automobile insurance, which is curious given that the precipitating event was a car accident. California has a fairly poor automobile insurance regime — it sure isn’t a no-fault state — and it would not be surprising if there was no coverage, but that would be another area crying out for reform.

    1. A good point to be sure, but if it was not a commercial vehicle it will probably max out at well under what this poor woman’s lifetime needs will be. The law has also changed so that plaintiffs injured by leased cars involved in accidents can no longer bring in the leasing company (i.e. Mercedes).

      1. I should elaborate that the change applied to New York state and the issue of vicarious liability. New York was the last state that had this.

  2. As it happens, I live in the generous little town where Marcella Wagner suffered that terrible accident. I don’t know her and her husband, but we have a number of mutual friends.

    It’s striking how, in this day and age, the kind of community spirit that rallies around a family in need — with fundraising suppers and the like — comes up so dramatically short in terms of meeting the real needs, especially when it comes to medical bills.

    And we need the spirit of charity and community, no?

Comments are closed.